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Evolve Review

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Work in progress

★★★★★

It’s here: a demonstrably new and original type of game. Although it’s a first-person shooter at heart, Evolve has been cleverly designed to provide an “asymmetric” multiplayer experience, in which four people, with distinct roles, hunt a giant monster, also played by a human, on a hostile planet. The good news is that you won’t mistake Evolve for any game that has gone before. But, although it is genuinely innovative, it doesn’t live up to its conceptual promise when viewed as a coherent entity.

At least it doesn’t fanny around: Evolve plunges you into the action with a remarkable lack of preamble. There are two short tutorials that teach you the controls when playing as a human hunter (specifically, Markov, who belongs to the Assault class) and when playing as a monster (the rock-throwing, fire-breathing Goliath). Then you must choose either to jump straight into a multiplayer match (and learn how to play the game in public), or explore and level up the four different classes offline, by drafting in bots to play the other characters.

The latter approach is by no means required, since Evolve’s matching is pretty spot-on when it comes to teaming you up with players of similar ability, but you do run the risk of picking a class that doesn’t suit your skills or play-style. On the other hand, the bots’ AI is pretty decent – you won’t find that they play well enough for you to be a passenger, so you have to work pretty hard at fulfilling your given role.

The four human classes are Assault, whose responsibility is taking monsters down when they have been located and cornered; Trapper, who must track and then trap monsters (generally using harpoons and a “mobile arena”); Medic, who must heal team-mates (a good role for those who lack top-level fast-twitch first-person shooter skills); and Support, who “buffs” team-mates by, for example, painting the monster so that other attacks on it cause more damage – and is capable of causing almost as much damage as the Assault class.

There are four game modes, and you can select Evacuation, which cycles through them all in the course of a five-match sequence, amounting to the closest Evolve gets to a story mode. If you don’t want to commit to a long session and select Skirmish, the game mode is randomly selected at the start of each round, with Hunt and Nest featuring most prominently. In the former, you must track your monster and kill it before it can evolve three times and destroy a Power Relay – so, even if it does fully evolve, you still have a chance of taking it down. In Nest, there are six monster eggs randomly dotted around the map which you must destroy, along with the monster; the monster, though, can hatch one egg to act as a minion. Monsters, naturally, also win matches if they manage to kill all the humans. The Rescue mode dots humans around the map, whom you must revive and rescue, and in the hardcore Defend mode, a starship refuelling station comes under attack from a monster and a supporting cast of minions, and must be defended until the ship is ready to take off.

There’s an abundance of fun to be had when playing Evolve: it looks great, the maps are huge and full of endearingly weird (and hostile) alien creatures, and the humans get a great rocket-jump which can be employed to dodge incoming attacks. Playing as a Hunter, you have to swap between weapons and shields a lot, which is a bit fiddly at first, but at least you never get swamped by an overabundance of weapons. The best weapons have a long recharge period, which causes initial annoyance, but as you level up, recharging speeds up.

Evolve is definitely a game for the hardcore, though: when you catch up with a monster, things become extremely frenetic, to such an extent that it can lead to utter confusion (swiftly followed by death, if your Medic isn’t on the ball), and in Hunt, the main game mode, you’re highly dependent on your Trapper, as you seek the monster and then pin it down so it can be attacked. The giant alien sniffer dog which Maggie, the initial Trapper character, owns, is a neat touch, but you’re still likely to spend too much time running at full pelt to catch up with the monster, and not enough time actually fighting it. The appeal of the Medic class is somewhat dubious, too, and the animations that take place before you parachute down to the planet are, frankly, embarrassing.

At least playing as a giant monster is every bit as satisfying as it sounds. The Goliath, with its fire-breath attack and ability to chuck rocks, is a great wrecking ball, and is pleasingly different to the flying Kraken, which has devastating electricity-based attacks and the stealthy Wraith (although it seems a bit wrong playing in a stealthy manner when you’re at the controls of something the size of a house). The biggest and baddest monster, the Behemoth, however, will only become available as downloadable content, which has led to plenty of pre-launch criticism from eager gamers – for a game which is so lacking in story or structure yet is still full-priced, it’s a bit rich to expect gamers to shell out even more on DLC.

While there’s plenty of fun to be had from Evolve, and it achieves its aim of bringing a fresh gameplay model to the next-gen consoles, it fails to live up to (perhaps overinflated) expectations in a number of ways. The levelling up system merely unlocks new characters in each of the classes and monsters, so even for those who commit to the game, proceedings swiftly become repetitive. There’s a total absence of the ebb and flow in narrative and gameplay terms that you find in the best single-player games. It’s very reminiscent of Titanfall in that respect. In fact, we can be pretty precise about exactly what type of gamer will derive the most pleasure from Evolve – anyone who became obsessed with Titanfall and carried on playing it long after launch.

Once you level up, it’s more or less imperative to get a seasoned team of gamers together, each with delineated roles (and gaming headsets are more or less vital, too). So, if you’re the sort of gamer who plays online regularly as part of a clan or whatever, you’ll love Evolve. If your approach to gaming is rather more casual and ad hoc, however, it’s likely that you’ll soon find yourself tiring of it. It just doesn’t feel like a fully realised game – more like a half to two-thirds of one.

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